Everybody in the world is playing Pokémon Go. Or at least that's what it felt like last night when I hit up Yonge and Dundas Square in downtown Toronto for an impromptu meet up. Even though an official version hasn't been released in Canada, the square was full of people walking around with their heads buried in their phones, frantically swiping up trying to catch a Drowzee or a Weedle, and hoping for a rarer, better Pokemon to show up.
I was expecting to bump into five, maybe ten players max, hoping to chat about the small but growing group of fellow trainers. Instead nearly 100 people spilled out over the square, huddling together in makeshift groups, teaching each other how to throw curveballs and where to catch the best Pokemon around the city. It's pretty impressive when you consider the game has only officially been out in three countries for five days and even more so when you factor in Canada's current "underground" or pirated status. The organizer of this particular lure party, Chris, was just as shocked at the turnout. He'd spent some money on lures—a way to bring the Pokemon to you rather than scour the city for them—and felt like treating local fans of the app.
"I put up a thing on Reddit thinking maybe five, six people would show up. Then as I was coming down Yonge Street [I saw] all these posts popping up, 'I'm coming from Ajax,' 'I'm coming from Mississauga,' and I saw this crowd forming and suddenly thought, 'Oh, shit what have I done? It's a community. There's no question there will be more extreme meet-ups as the game gets officially released here," he told VICE.
Most of the group had just come from another, unrelated meet-up at the CN Tower and walked the 2.4 km to Yonge and Dundas to keep the Pokémon party going. Gamers aren't exactly known for their rigorous physical activity (RIP Kinect), so it was a surprise to hear how many of the users were already walking nearly ten times that a day in pursuit of pokémon. One guy (who also held the gym at the CN Tower) told me he was getting so exhausted from walking that he'd decided to pull his old rollerblades out of his basement. He'd already done 18 km that day.
Meeting new people IRL, like exercise, has become a bonus side effect of the game. Many of the groups I talked to, who at first glance appeared to be old friends out for a stroll, had just met that night. One young woman even suggested that in a city like Toronto, which can seem unfriendly at the best of times, this was an inspiring turn of events.
As someone who hates talking to strangers, this was a wild departure for me too. But everyone was insanely welcoming and generous, showing me how to throw the pokeballs to ensure a clean capture and helping me figure out which team to join once I finally cleared level five (blue team obvi).
It's the kind of atmosphere that adds to the addictive nature of the game, an opportunity not just to catch 'em all but to stop staring at your phone on the couch and start staring at phone in new neighbourhoods all over the city.
But we didn't let all this philosophizing take over the lure party, as talk quickly turned to fears about getting banned from the game for using a workaround or worse, losing all our pokémon when the official version arrives.
"I would be so sad. I do get attached to them though they're just pixels on the screen," said Erica Fletcher.
Meghan Mcgill, who came to the lure party from Ajax, thinks Nintendo will bow to the pressure of the ever-growing userbase already established in Canada.
"There's strength in numbers, because of the sheer amount of people here I don't think they will erase our pokémon. Or at least I hope so."
All 100 or so of us walked around the square for nearly two hours grabbing Weedles and Caterpies, until eventually someone dropped a triple lure a few blocks away and everyone went scrambling to grab that last pokémon before their phones died.
Surveying the dense crowd he'd managed to gather on a Monday night, Chris asked out loud, "What is happening to my life right now?" before taking off down the street to the triple lure.
As I went bolting in the same direction, starting to panic about my dying battery, I asked myself the same question and then ran into the mall to charge up.
Follow Amil Niazi on Twitter